Disciples of the Lord Jesus
Installation Sermon–Rev. Michael Larson
Luther Memorial Chapel
November 19, 2017
To the disciples of the Lord Jesus at Luther Memorial Chapel, to you [Pastor Wieting] my Reverend Father and brother in Christ whom I love and respect in the Lord Jesus and who, by the grace of God, has served the saints in this place and beyond so faithfully over the past 27 years, to friends and family of Michael and Kristina and to brothers and sisters in Christ who have come together to celebrate the gift of the Holy Ministry, to our brothers in office gathered with you, and especially to you, Michael and Kristina and to your lovely family “grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
Luther Memorial Chapel has a special place in my heart. The Rev. Stephen Wiest, a son of the congregation served as my father confessor for over a decade. Since the Lord called him to his eternal rest, you [Pastor Wieting], my dear brother, have served me faithfully with the Lord’s forgiveness. I will be forever grateful that both of you brought our Lord Jesus to me with His mercy and grace. By your ministry of Christ’s absolution, I was so often given the strength to continue in the Holy Office. Thanks be to God!
More than anything else, we are gathered here today because we are disciples of the Lord Jesus. He is the Son of God and our Savior. He became incarnate in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, joining Himself to our flesh and making our sin His own. He went to the cross on our behalf because He loves us. There in His suffering and death, He “redeemed us with His holy precious blood” that “we might be His own and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him” under the protection and comfort of His “everlasting righteousness innocence and blessedness.” We believe in Him who gave His life for us.
The highest worship of God is the yearning desire to receive the forgiveness of the Lord Jesus. This is what we yearn for as disciples of the Lord Jesus. It is this forgiveness, which we have not earned and which we do not deserve, that teaches us what it means to follow Him who gave His life for us. It is this forgiveness which conveys to us the love of God and which binds us together in love within the communion of saints. It is this forgiveness which teaches us to take up our cross and follow Him. It is this ministry of forgiveness in Jesus’ name that you, Michael, have been called to minister to the disciples of Jesus here at Luther Memorial and to every student who is drawn to this place. It is this forgiveness of the Lord Jesus that you have received that made you a Lutheran and that drew you into the Office of the Holy Ministry. Now, by the grace of God, you have been called back to the place where it all began.
The words which absolution give
Are His who died that we might live;
The minister whom Christ has sent
Is but His humble instrument.
When ministers lay on their hands,
Absolved by Christ the sinner stands;
He who by grace the Word believes
The purchase of His blood receives.
This gift and this authority come from the Lord Jesus. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
This passage, which is so familiar to us, is often used exclusively to urge the Church and her ministers to mission work which has as its sole purpose conversion. “Go and make disciples of all nations!” “Convert sinners of every ethnic group to faith in Christ.” Would it be wrong of me to challenge this focus? First, (and I don’t mean to be snarky) we cannot convert anyone to faith in Christ. It is the work of the Holy Spirit alone. Second, and this is the critical point, the Holy Spirit’s work of “making disciples” involves more than the miracle of conversion; it involves the ongoing teaching of everything that our Lord Jesus has commanded us.
What are these things that Jesus has “commanded us”? Most people think of the Law, the Ten Commandments. But this is not it. The commands of which Jesus is referring in the Great Commission are the wonderful mandates of the Gospel, those commands which serve as the foundational basis for the “Holy Orders” the minister receives at his ordination and which are reaffirmed at every subsequent installation. This list is not exhaustive, but here are among the most important ones: “Preach the Gospel to every creature!” “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent Me, so I send you…forgive the sins of repentant sinners, retain the sins of the impenitent!” “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven…!” “Do this in remembrance of me…that is, faithfully administer the Lord’s Supper!” “Love one another as I have loved you! Forgive one another as I have forgiven you! Bear one another’s burdens!” “Deny yourself! Take up your cross and follow Me!” And of course, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things I have commanded you!”
The commands of which Jesus speaks do not exclude the Law or the Ten Commandments, but they most especially include those commands which flow from the Gospel itself and those gifts by which our faith in Christ is sustained and by which we learn to live as His disciples. It is as if Jesus were saying, “Teach them how to receive my Word in preaching and catechesis, how to receive My body and blood, how to pray, how to confess, how to forgive, and how to live in the freedom of My forgiveness with faith in Me and with love and mercy toward others!”
What is a disciple of Jesus? Of course, a disciple is a believer in Jesus, a follower of Jesus, one who trusts in Jesus! But a disciple of Jesus has a life of faith that lives from the concrete gifts of Word and Sacrament. A disciple of Jesus learns to live in the promises of his baptism by daily confessing his sins and fleeing to Christ’s mercy for the renewal of his life in Christ. A disciple learns to pray, giving thanks for the difficulties of life and casting every burden upon his Lord. A disciple hungers and thirsts for the Lord’s Word as if we would die without it, because he would. A disciple frequently partakes of the Lord’s body and blood because it is the medicine of immortality. It strengthens our reliance upon Jesus and it nurtures us in His love and our love for each other in the communion of saints. A disciple confesses his faith with joy, even in the face of persecution and the loss of property, position, or life itself. It is the Lord’s forgiveness that teaches us how to live this life as disciples of the Lord Jesus.
The Lord’s forgiving Word in the Gospel and sacraments teach us how to live in the ordinary grind of earthly life with all its challenges. A disciple loves his wife as Christ loved the Church. A disciple submits to the love of her husband. A disciple honors his parents especially if they are poor, feeble, and eccentric. A disciple eagerly serves his overbearing boss. A disciple prays for his enemies, blesses those who curse him, and desires the salvation of those who hate him. A disciple loves his neighbor, no matter who that neighbor might be, without counting the cost. A disciple loves as Jesus loves, because we have received His love at the cost of His own blood.
The miracle of faith in Christ, wrought by the Holy Spirit, whom God the Father pours out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior in the waters of Holy Baptism must, of necessity, be nurtured, fed, and strengthened through teaching. The Church, since apostolic times, has called this teaching “catechesis” — God’s way of converting the heart to faith in Christ again and again, through the call to repentance and the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins, so that the baptized faithful learn how to receive God’s gifts in the divine service, how to pray, how to confess, how to forgive, and how to live in their station in life with faith in Christ and love to the neighbor. This is how disciples are made! But it is not our work! It is the Lord’s Work. You and I, Michael, Pastor Wieting and our brothers in office are merely humble instruments in the Lord’s service and in service of those for whom our Lord laid down His life.
Finally, a disciple rejoices with those who rejoice. Luther Memorial is rejoicing today. There will be no vacancy. There will be a seamless transition from Pastor Wieting to Pastor Larson. The Lord has provided for His congregation here in this place, and the flock at Luther Memorial is rejoicing!
But we must not forget that a disciple also grieves with those who grieve. The saints of St. Paul Wittenberg are grieving today. Their faithful shepherd who has brought the Lord’s comforting Word and life-giving Sacraments to them has departed. They miss you today and are filled with sorrow. Let us not forget to pray for them. Pastor Larson is also grieving today. He loves the sheep at St. Paul, even as he looks forward in joy to serve you. Pray for your pastor, for his comfort and for his strength. He who shouldered the burdens of the members of St. Paul will do the same for you. Pastor Wieting is grieving today too. He is looking forward to retirement, but it is never easy for a pastor to leave his flock. He has served you for 27 years preaching the Gospel, visiting the sick and dying, comforting the bereaved, and forgiving sin. Pray for your pastor, for his comfort and for his strength. The baton has been passed to another man. It is a blessed gift, but it is not easy.
To the disciples of the Lord Jesus at Luther Memorial and to you, Michael, you have the Lord’s sure promise. Wherever His Word is faithfully received and taught: “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This, truly, is all a disciple of the Lord Jesus ever needs.
In the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Amen)
Rev. Peter C. Bender, Pastor
Peace Lutheran Church and Academy, Sussex, WI